Eighteen small faces looked around the room with a mixture of different emotions.

Some smiled, the joy at a new adventure radiating off their faces. Others had darting eyes, curiosity prompting them to take in the alien environment.

And yet another group bore tears and looks of anger, saddened at leaving home.

The first day of school can be quite an experience for a young child at Fort McPherson. Their journey began Aug. 10 by walking through the doors of the Child and Youth Services Youth Center, Bldg. 400 on Fort McPherson to the classroom where they would begin their first day.

Enrolled in the pre-kindergarten course, these children would begin to shape the foundation upon which they would build their education.

At first glance, the room appeared to be a strange hybrid of a playpen and classroom. Mixed amongst the letters of the alphabet and numbers on the wall were dinosaur toys and building blocks.

They stood ready to serve their purpose, even if their use was not readily transparent to the untrained eye. "A lot of people have the idea that Pre-K and kindergarten are just finger painting and Romper Room," said Laura Stephenson, Pre-K teacher.

However, she said that every tool has its purpose in developing the multitude of skills adults take for granted every day.

These skills include social interaction, emotional development and fine and gross motor skills. Although it was her first day teaching at Fort McPherson, Stephenson, who moved here with her husband, Maj. Toney Stephenson, contracting officer, G4, U.S. Army Central, said she has a long history of helping children develop those skills.

In addition to a bachelor's degree in early childhood and elementary education from the University of Texas, and a master's degree in education as a licensed reading specialist from Auburn University, Stephenson also has seven years teaching Pre-K and kindergarten.

Such experience was key in helping her deal with the variety of situations encountered during the day.

"Some kids are used to the classroom, and for some it is their first time out of nest," Stephenson said.

Each of the children arrived with different levels of development, and different approaches were needed to reach and motivate them.

"We try to make sure all kids get what they need," said Bridgette May, assistant Pre-K teacher with more than 20 years experience working with children. Though their needs might be different, a universal approach to reach all of the children was in place. "The day is so busy and ordered," Stephenson said. "There is never a moment of downtime. We basically ensure kids have fun, are involved and encourage them to participate."

Combining patience, love and encouragement has proven to be a successful formula for Stephenson and Mays in building a solid foundation for future success in school.

"I've never had a child who didn't jump in after a few days," Stephenson said. Mays said such a foundation is important because it helps more advanced lessons to fall into place as a child progresses through school. "It's important to reach them at an early age so they don't get left behind," she said.

Having parents come back years later to thank Mays and tell her how well their child did in kindergarten is the most rewarding part of the job, Mays said. Although constant travel as an Army wife has kept her from experiencing such thanks (this is Stephenson's fifth school), Stephenson said her rewards come every day from the children.

"What other job can you have where you're in a room surrounded by smiling, glowing faces' It's contagious," she said. "These kids are anxious to learn." In the months that follow, Stephenson and Mays will work with the children to develop social skills, such as learning to share and interact well with others, physical skills, such as fine and gross motor development, and academic skills, such as recognizing letters and preparing to read.

"We want to make sure they are prepared for kindergarten," Mays said. "It's a lot of work, taking these little kids and setting them up with life skills," Stephenson added.

Still, she said she is excited about this year, adding that the CYS staff has been wonderful and very supportive during her transition.

Stephenson also said it is important that parents are supportive of their children and help develop the skills being taught.

Each week, parents receive a school newsletter keeping them informed about the progression of skills and academic knowledge the children are learning.

Although only time will tell what type of grades the children will earn throughout thei school year, with only one day into the job, the children seem to have given Stephenson and Mays a passing score for the day.

Ryan Neve, 4, son of Spc. Jacob Neve, a medical supply specialist at Lawrence Joel Army Health Clinic, said he would still come back to school despite missing his dad.

The expectations of Brooke Twitty, 4, daughter of Karen Twitty and Col. Stephen Twitty, ARCENT chief of staff, were also met.

"It's good," she said, adding her favorite part of the day was singing. The children learned and sang songs throughout the day to learn concepts, such as the days of the week and months of the year. "They're (Stephenson and Mays) nice. I think school is fun," said Twitty.